Long read: Who is qualified to make a world?

In search of the magic of maps.

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Rocking the rim.

Why are yearly updates a good idea? Because content just swells on those discs. A game like NBA 2K7 couldn't be where it is today - at the top of the heap - without years of tweaks, refinements, tinkering, mistakes, polish and hard graft. It's difficult to know where to start with NBA 2K7 because there's so much of it. Seasons, tournaments, single games, franchise mode and a fat online offering easily make it the most comprehensive basketball title on next-gen, laughing off any semi-pro challenge that comes from EA's NBA Live effort. 2K Games' b-ball title is the shit.

If you're comfortable with 2K's basketball offerings, and I'll assume you are, then much of NBA 2K7 feels familiar. That's welcomely familiar, not oh-no-not-you-again familiar. The biggest tweak is the offensive controls, which make efficient use of triggers and right analogue stick. The transition from dribbling to dunks is smooth, and once a player is inside the key it's easy to unleash a varied and stylish attack at the basket. In defence, these same control combinations are used to block and swat the ball, and again, control flows off the fingers without ever feeling clumsy or a fluke.

24/7: Next mode is basically a streetball game with lots of two-on-two matches and moves you won't see in the real NBA. So effectively, you've got your own little version of NBA Street, where your self-created player earns himself a rep on the parking lots and concrete courts, with encouragement from a little entourage. There might be an added story, but it's not as wanky as it sounds. You learn new moves by defeating you opponents in tough challenges, and if you've got game you'll earn the right to go up against all time greats like Dr. J and Larry Bird. What it is, is a different enough game of basketball to the real NBA sessions. It's almost arcade-lite, something that's worth playing and feels like developer Visual Concepts is right to continue to grow as part of the game.

Look at the size of hands. It's like he's toying with fruit.

Online play is thick with choice, and mimics the offline modes. Tournaments, single games and 30-player leagues are all enjoying a healthy community, and with feedback after each match it's easy to find the right style, players and session you're looking for, whether intense and epic or knockabout fun. In fact, the feedback questions are something that a lot of online games of any genre would benefit from, enabling players to comment if someone's a sore loser. Technically it's smooth, so there shouldn't be any reason to not take to the online courts. Again, going up against EA's NBA Live, which features a bare minimum of modes and some serious lag issues, it's a no brainer.

NBA 2K7 looks the business, with player likenesses, on-court reflections, clothing and animation all up there as some of the best examples of realism on any console. You might not know who all these players are, but they look like real people, not some stiff-faced puppet on a motion-captured body. Well, apart from the odd C-list player who we'll assume doesn't really look like a burns victim. It's a trade-off that's acceptable and is almost entirely smothered by incidental animations and slick touches elsewhere on the court that make the game shine. Where else do you get dancing mascots?

Never has sweat looked so attractive. Apart from on Amazonian jungle women.

With signature moves (and mardy-arsed tantrums) captured for individual players, there's a nice sense of life on the courts, helping the game flow more realistically. It's these little touches that justify NBA 2K7's status in the seemingly endless parade of sports titles. Those guys on the court are differentiated by much more than their stats, with animation that creates a real feeling of motion and naturalism. Charging the lane and pulling off slick dunks, lay-ups and jump shots never looked or felt this smooth before.

For all the good meat, there's invariably going to be some off-cuts. Free-throw shots are a disaster and you'll learn new ways to hate a videogame because of them. The disadvantage of players' having their own animations is that each releases the ball at different points, so you need to learn a hell of a lot of moves to know when to time your throw. Free throws are where you'll definitely want to spend time to adjust the slider. Which sounds easier than it is, thanks to the long-winded, ugly and slow menu design. It's counter-intuitive and is another blight on the 2K package. Last, but not least, something has to be done to adjust the AI settings. You'll find a lot of games finish with you going back to the slider menu's trying to perfect the AI because it has a tendency to disregard the clock. In single-player games, those boys should not be hanging onto the ball when there's only fifteen seconds to go. I want to see them work under pressure, not showboating as if they've got all the time in the world.

He might be a man-mountain, but what kind of adult has no facial hair?

NBA 2K7 is a ridiculous package. At times it's overwhelming. Although anyone looking for a quick pick up and play game of basketball is catered for, it's a shame to not dedicate serious time to the wealth of content on offer. The Association mode is enough to keep b-ball nerds obsessing for months, and this is one time I'll happily scan a game manual to see what I can do this time that I couldn't last year, just to put some kind of order into my game. It's a truly hardcore experience, and it has little time for newcomers.

It's deep baby, deeper than The Bee Gees' and Take That's love. It's handsome too. Damn handsome. And it's rich with features, so rich you'll struggle to know where to start, and then have to face up to the possibility that you won't ever get around to exploring everything. It's a sports game that will keep you going for months until the next one arrives, and even then it's going to do itself a disservice by making you seriously question whether you need to buy another yearly upgrade. But if this is the sport you're dedicated to, Visual Concepts has made the game entirely for your pleasure. And it's not very often you can credit a game with giving you a year's worth of play. Go get it.

8 / 10